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The Hill's History-Cast: Murder and Honor in the Capitol

The Hill's History-Cast: Murder and Honor in the Capitol
© The Hill staff

In 1890, a muckraking journalist walked up to a former member of Congress, tapped him on the shoulder, and shot him in the face.

It was broad daylight, on a staircase inside the Capitol just outside the members-only dining room, and there were witnesses. But the journalist was acquitted of manslaughter charges when the jury found he had acted in self defense, in keeping with the rules of honor.

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Throughout the 19th century, honor and the chivalric code were deeply important to members of Congress, especially those from Southern states who saw themselves as descended from royalty — unlike those peasantnortherners, who were descendants of the Pilgrims.

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton fought their famous duel. Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, found time to fight two duels of his own.

And just before the Civil War, one member of the House caned a sitting senator — and became the new hero of the South. When the congressman died a few years later, mourners lined the train tracks as he was borne home to South Carolina, in what was said to have been the largest funeral procession in the nation's history.

Join us this week for a deep dive into the chivalric tradition in Congress — starting with the stairs where former Rep. William P. Taulbee (D-Ky.) was shot, still covered in his blood.

Check out this week’s episode on iTunesStitcherTuneIn or your favorite podcast platform.